PHOTOS: Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa Fury FC
By Théo Gauthier
The decision-makers at Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) found themselves at the intersection of a new adventure and prudence. They chose the latter.
By choosing to keep Canada’s capital team out of the Canadian Premier League and continuing their involvement in America’s second division, the Ottawa Fury instantly become an outlier in Canadian Soccer: too small a market for MLS (which has made it clear its Canadian expansion is over), and with today’s announcement, positioning themselves as superior to Canada’s top league. In 2019, the Ottawa Fury will be a Canadian professional soccer club playing in America, without the glamour of being in MLS, while (at least) seven other cities battle it out to become champions of Canada.
In fairness, the level of quality which will be on display at the CPL’s kickoff in April of 2019 is not known. By all indications the league will be mostly developmental, at least in its early years. Presumably, in trying to lure the Fury to CPL, details were shared with OSEG that haven’t been made public. Whatever OSEG saw was deemed too risky to lend its expertise, brand recognition, and credibility to the fledgeling Canadian soccer circuit. Instead, OSEG CEO Mark Goudie shut the door on the Fury’s participation in the CPL as league founders and left the door open to a future in which it would join up: “We’ll continue to talk to the CPL and see how their business unfolds.” In other words: get good, and we’ll talk.
No one can accuse OSEG of lacking vision. They took a dilapidated stadium and arena, on a pitiable tract of land in downtown Ottawa and turned it into one of the most vibrant parts of the city. They rebooted a twice-failed CFL franchise and made it one of the best organisations in the league. They launched a professional soccer club in a city that wasn’t exactly crying out for one. Many risks were taken along the way, but the uncertainty surrounding CPL was a bridge too far. Now that most of their initial risks are paying off—the jury is still out on whether the Fury is a viable piece of the OSEG pie—consolidation may be the name of the game before more risk is undertaken.
The Fury will continue to be a haven for Canadian soccer pros wanting to play closer to home, a way-station for players too good for the CPL (at least in the beginning), but not good enough for MLS (whether players on their way up or down). The Fury still has a big role to play in the development of Canadians and the growth of the club game in this country. “The Project”, under General Manager Julian de Guzman, is still moving full-steam ahead, with 17 Canadians at various stages of their careers currently under contract.
In the coming years, it can be argued that no one will be following the CPL’s progress more closely than the people at OSEG. This way, they’ll be able to assess the viability of the CPL and make a decision to join if it aligns with their business concerns. The approach could be labelled “Patriotism, Within Reason” or “The Passion of the Accountant”. It won’t set hearts aflutter, but it might assure the club’s survival if the CPL is a disaster. OSEG proved its ability to read the financial tea leaves when they jumped from NASL to USL a full year before that league folded. By saying “not yet” to the CPL, they’re reaffirming their commitment to being a part of the Canadian soccer landscape in whichever way they deem it best.
The disappointment is palpable. Many people, including this chronicler, were hoping for the opposite announcement. On the upside, CPL supporters have a default villain for next year’s Voyageurs Cup. Forget the MLS clubs; having been snubbed by the Fury, CPL clubs will want to bury them at every opportunity. In terms of league play, the Fury can continue testing itself against the Bethlehems, Richmonds and Charlestons of the world while the CPL clubs determine who will be crowned the first Canadian champions since the Winnipeg Fury in 1992.
Sandwiching two Fury champions either side of 17 years of inactivity just wasn’t to be.